Each New Year creates a clear boundary in time. It causes us to pause and look both backwards and forwards; to the year that was, and to the possibilities that lie ahead. Although January 1st is an entirely random point in time to designate as the beginning of the year, the ceaseless flow of the seasons is a natural rhythm that truly distinguishes one annual cycle from another. But today the ancient, slow pulse of those seasons is not as reassuringly predictable as it once was. This week it was warmer at the North Pole than it was in Chicago, Vienna and Istanbul, and weather patterns everywhere are becoming increasingly erratic.
My guess is that future historians will look back at the agreement just reached in Paris in 2015 and see it as a turning point in our tenure on Earth: the time when humanity finally recognized the scope of our impact in the global scheme of things. For thousands of generations of human habitation, we have been a relatively insignificant organism, exerting little influence other than at a very local scale. But in the last few generations, our numbers and our technological abilities have led us to a point where we are capable of profoundly affecting the fabric of the very planet we call home. Our relationship to the Earth has changed, from a vulnerable strand of evolution, subject to the Earth’s unforgiving natural laws, to a dominant species which holds the fate of the critical life-supporting systems of this planet in our hands.
To a large extent, I don’t think that most people are accepting – or even aware – of this profound change. I believe that as a recognition of this new reality, and the lifestyle changes that must accompany a shift towards living securely and sustainably on this planet slowly emerges, it will become apparent first in places where that ancient attachment to the land has not been entirely severed. In places like PEI.
To a greater extent than most places on Earth, the relationship between its residents and the land is profoundly felt on Prince Edward Island. PEI is small, it is fertile, and it is densely populated. PEI also has a long history of acute awareness of our attachment to the land, and how precious that relationship is. Whether through the contentious history of ownership, patterns of usage, or climatic threats, the vulnerability of the land which is PEI is deeply felt.
In a world where 80% of us now live in cities, and where humanity’s sense of connection to the Earth has diminished precipitously, PEI is a place where natural cycles, our dependency on nature, and on each other have largely endured in the public consciousness. As we begin a New Year, let Islanders rise to the new challenge of redefining ourselves at this time and in this place. We can lead a movement that will secure a prosperous, safe and healthy future for the generations that follow us.